As a pinoy expat now based on another part of the world, there are many questions that are continually posed to oneself and others, questions that often have few clear cut answers.
Like: Why do we go home?
Or: When are you going back?
Honestly, I have no answer. I have left my old life and all it symbolized in the shores of the Philippines with the knowledge that I am restarting anew. I must admit that I have the option not to return anymore since my visa is different from everyone else's and there are moments when I am dissuaded from ever entertaining the thought of going back.
The horror stories of friends about taxi drivers running away with their baggages when they disembark at NAIA; or worse, the tales of highwaymen and cutthroats that stalk balikbayans can put a damper on one's thoughts about going back home. Policemen extort you on the road, hairdressers pad your payments with excesses and friends and family can treat you like a bank account. And the traffic is messy, the public toilets are worse than pigstys, and the prevalent attitude towards returning expats leans towards suffocating to say the least.
And yet, one cannot deny the yearning to go back… there is a calling there that cannot be denied, an unspoken invitation that cannot be ignored.
The scent of Benguet pine beckons to the senses as does the rich aroma of roasted bangus over hot coals in a small La Union beachfront (can’t afford Pagudpod or Boracay – those are luxuries). Thoughts of BenCabs museum pieces elicits pangs of nostalgia and even the memory of the oppressive heat of Sison, Pangasinan in the worst stage of summer is a succulent temptation that grows stronger with every passing day spent away from the country. There are too many things that one yearns for... too many things that cannot be replicated elsewhere...
Of course, there's also another side to this. Beyond the great scenes and memories, other less savory facts linger. One cannot ignore the social problems left behind...that leaves a bad taste on one's mouth. One often wonders if leaving the country for a couple of years could somehow miraculously cure it of its ills. There is that hope that when you leave and then return, that somehow during the course of your sojourn, the NAIA people would become this courteous group of attendants that are prim and proper who'll meet you with bright sunny smiles; that taxi drivers would assist you when you get your baggage and take you through the best routes and then ask you whether all of your baggages are accounted for when you reach your destination (and that he would actually shake his head when you offer him a tip for his service and say that it is too much); that the local tambays are playing basketball while sober and are productive members of society (and would help old people and kids steer clear of vices); that there are no colorum jeeps and buses plying the streets; and that finally every driver on the road knows and respects the rules; and that your family and relatives don’t see you as one big dollar sign. That there are no more palaboys and squatters and street kids... the list is endless.
For this is the unspoken desire that resides in the heart and mind of every pinoy expat/OFW: that they return to a country that has everything they've loved then and one that has transformed its shortcomings into assets when they return.
If only it were true….
Why Do we Go Home
But I must go back to addressing the question posed in the beginning: Why do we go home?
The most common reason, of course for us is the fact that our family is back there. Filipinos are a family oriented race. We suffer and bleed for our families foremost of all. Families are our raison d'etre (reason for existence) and since majority of Pinoy OFWs are married when they leave, their families(plural and italized) are left behind. We return for our families, period. The same reason we use when we leave is the same reason that we go back, at least for most (again, italized) of the time.
Of course, the real reason we go home is because the work contracts that enabled us to leave in the first place have finally run its course and we, rather than suffering the risks of being a TNT, have chosen instead to go back home. Given the option to work longer, many would opt for staying put rather than going back. That is the truth, whether we accept it or not.
And the other more common reason we go home is because the companies that we work for have paid vacation as part of the contract we've signed and rather than staying cooped up in an apartment for a month staring at walls, we opt to go home instead and visit sunny beaches. These are the practical reasons, and obviously unromantic ones that we use when we go home. These two reasons alone comprise the main answer to the question. No frills, nothing philosophical, just plain facts, ninety percent of the time.
The other ten percent is brought upon us because of unforeseen circumstances: a child falls ill, a parent dies, a spouse commits adultery (don’t deny it) or your teenager impregnates someone (or is impregnated) and you have no choice but to go home. We are forced then to come back to the heartache and regrets that follow such tragedies.
Let’s face it: only a few go home because they want to. If you give them the chance to work for more or give them another alternative, many will opt for that rather than go back. This is the tragedy that befalls our psyche when we search for greener pastures. I wish for one, that we go home for romantic reasons, idealized reasons… but that would be a lie.
Why Go Home?
Why go home?
That is the more proper question, I think.
Bakit nga ba tayo kelangan uuwi? (Come to think of it, translating the previous question would result in the same translation as this one – go figure.) But unlike the more technical reasons enumerated above, this question is answered in a more philosophical bent that caters to that side of us that wishes not to dwell on harsh statistics.
Well, first off, no matter how much we want to escape from our previous state of life in the country, we owe her. We owe the Philippines, our motherland. Compared to other nations where freedom is trampled underfoot and the lives of people rendered superficial at birth, we are lucky to be born as Filipinos. We had access, albeit limited at times, to education. We had relative (note) freedom of expression which is a luxury when compared to the freedoms that are repressed in other countries. We have a rich tapestry of culture that is uniquely ours which is uplifting and is generally non-oppressive. We have an extended family that continues to anchor us firmly in place no matter where we go or what we do. We have a home to go back to which will always accept us with open arms…
A home, brothers and sisters, is why we go back…
More than anything superficial, it is the sense of belongingness that beckons to us.
It is home –
Secondly, we want to believe that what we did for many years working on foreign soil has a substantive result that we can go back to, that we can be proud of. That’s the expat dream. We want to know and see with our own eyes that the labor we tendered breaking our backs for foreign masters for so many years had achieved a desirable result. Whether that realization is in the form of a good house with four concrete walls and tiled floors as opposed to a bamboo walled, dirt floored abode; or whether it’s a brand new tricycle or passenger jeepney when we had none before; or a framed diploma proudly displayed on the living room wall from the fruits of one's kids; or the rice field title finally recovered from a bank escrow or a loansharks hands: these are what we hope to go home to, tangible, measurable reasons that make us believe that leaving in the first place was all worth it.
Never mind lofty ideals such as changing the status quo or returning to miraculously change the Philippines. It is a waste of breathe and effort that borders on haughtiness. Idealism only goes so far and some aspirations no matter how noble need to be dressed down. What we should do instead are the things that we reasonably can in our power: and that... is to better our lot in life and learn to revel in and nurture what we reaped.
Everything starts in the small things like this. A sturdy house inspires people to do more and gives them confidence to live on; tricycles and jeepneys if properly managed can become a source of regular subsistence that will do much for the self and eliminate one more family from the brink of poverty; a diploma arms the next generation who will carry the mantle in beginning of a new era of hope; and properties returned to one's name is one less family out of debt and one more family economically and mentally secured to face the future.
Everything that matters starts small: if we can start with ourselves, bigger dreams come in time….
There is of course, the undercurrent of idealism that runs beneath these statements and it would be injustice if it is not addressed. After all, each one of us dreams of being that person who will change the world, or at least be that harbinger of change to our own corner of the world. It is human nature. We all dream of returning as heroes or becoming heroes.
So the teachers dream of going back to teaching their own countrymen, or engineers dream of establishing their own companies back in the country that build low cost homes for the masses; nurses, well dream of just getting back home and finding their families intact AND doing pro bono outreaches with the disenfranchised members of society (had to say that or my nursing friends will have my hide, haha). Single, middle aged compatriots who finally accept that their lot in life is to become spinsters and bachelors look to join worthy causes that will harness the passion they could not channel into families. And old, grizzled veterans who have spent most of their lives away from the motherland return to share their wisdom (if anyone listens, that is).
Lofty ideals and worthy of pursuit. I salute those whose dreams are these. And more kudos for those who actually live up to them and curse you! the hypocrites who fail to live up to their words.
But for me, the best thing that comes out of the sweat and labor and the numerous sacrifices we made... is going home to the warm embrace of a wife who remained loyal through all the years. To find healthy children who’ve made good on their studies and and who are free from the pitfalls of vices and rebellion that is prevalent now among OFW children. To find that simple dream house built when once there was a decrepit shack. To find that shiny new jeepney parked that says ‘Katas ng Saudi’ in its mudguard in front of the simple sari-sari store. That’s the greatest difference one can make.
Now imagine if all of the more than two million OFWs return to that kind of accomplishment...
Wouldn't that be great?
And I’d be proud to say
Nakauwi na po ako!!!!!!!!!!
Mabuhay ang Pinoy!